by Staff Writer
Anyone who enjoys billiards is playing one of the oldest games of skill in history. This billiards buying guide will help you weigh the different features of billiards tables, pool cues and billiards accessories that you'll enjoy having in your game room for years to come.
Pool and billiards: The terms "billiards" and "pool" are often used interchangeably to refer to cue sports. Officially, a billiards table has no pockets and is larger than a pool table. There are many different cue sports, with differently shaped tables and different games. The most common billiards game is Eight Ball, using 16 billiard balls on a six-pocket pool table. Billiards is often used to refer to cue sports in general, however, which is how you'll see it used in this guide.
Pool table weight: When it comes to your billiards table, the weight may determine where it can be placed within your home. Small, fairly light tables are available, but a tournament-grade table can weigh a quarter ton or more; so choose carefully where your pool table will sit and be sure you have help moving it.
Billiards tables and room size: You want to play comfortably in your billiards room, so it will need to be big enough to accommodate your billiards table with some room for players to move and make shots. Pool tables are available in lengths from 6 to 12 feet, with standard table width as one-half the length. The most common sizes for billiards tables are 7 feet, 8 feet and 9 feet. If your space is limited, you can try using shorter pool cues so you don't bump into the walls as you shoot.
Table surfaces: The playing surface of your billiards table determines how fast billiard balls move around the table, how they spin and how the balls rebound from the bumpers. Most pool tables consist of a hard subsurface covered by fabric.
Slate: Slate is a hard rock that can be ground and polished to a durable, level surface. A slate billiards table will use either a single slab or multiple sections bonded together. A bonded surface is more resistant to warping. Pool tables for home use generally have 0.75-inch thick slate slab. Tournament-grade slates are 1-inch thick and may cost more.
Non-slate: Artificial slate, called perma-slate or slatron, is a plastic-particle board laminate that is used for the billiards table subsurface. Plastic honeycomb, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and particle board are also used in pool table construction. These table surfaces have a shorter lifespan than slate and may start to warp over time.
Cloth: Each billiards table's playing surface must have a cloth cover, usually called "the felt," although it is usually made from wool. The cloth is rated by weight. Twenty ounces or above is professional-grade table felt, but many tables use lower weights, which are less expensive. Traditionally, the felt is green because billiards developed from a lawn game similar to croquet. Other table styles include felts in numerous colors.
Cushions: Cushions, or "bumpers," are attached to the top rail. "K-66 cushions" are required for tournament play, so these are the cushions to look for if you want true tournament feel. Molded gum-rubber cushions allow faster rebounds and, because of their durability, are recommended for outdoor tables.
Pockets: Drop pockets are the most common style for pocketed billiards tables. Leather, plastic and rubber pockets are all common, with varying levels of durability. A shield pocket or fringe is an attractive add-on. All billiards tables have pocket inserts to protect the wood frame of the table and may include an additional metal shield around the pocket. Some tables replace pockets with an automatic ball return that delivers balls to a shelf under one end of the pool table.
Rails, cushions and legs: Structurally, rails connect the play surface to the pool table cushions, but rails also affect play; they provide a stable surface for stapling the cloth and gluing the cushions. A denser cushion also means faster rebounds and better play. The construction of the frames is vital to the pool table's service life. Cushions can be straight-sided or taper inward from top to bottom. Neither is better structurally, though the tapered design may be more comfortable on some shots. Your billiards table's legs can be simple poles or ornately carved columns in classic or modern designs. Look for legs that include built-in levelers.
Pool cues: Cues come in several sizes and in one-piece and two-piece forms. Two-piece cues screw together in the middle.
Length: A standard billiards cue is 57 or 58 inches long. Shorter cues (52, 48, even 42 inches) are helpful in tight spots or small rooms where you have less space around the table.
Weight: A quality pool cue is well-balanced. A cue with a little heft to it will be less likely to slip or tremble as you shoot.
Billiards care: Like all sports equipment, proper care will extend the life of your billiards table and accessories. With the proper care, a high-quality pool table can last several generations.
Cloth: Cloth on your billiards table will wear with use. Spotting on the fabric is almost inevitable, but you can clean them with a damp cloth. Careful play will prevent scratches to the felt, as will keeping food and drink away from your billiards area. Vacuuming or brushing the billiards table surface can reduce dust and prolong cloth life.
Pockets: Leather billiards pockets can be oiled every few months to keep them soft and un-cracked. If the pockets are sagging or lose their symmetry, weight them with balls and let them sit for a week or so. Inserts and plates around the pockets should be cleaned every few weeks with whatever is appropriate for that material.